After months of off-season speculation about how things would play out for San Antonio FC, the season finally got underway two weeks ago. As hopes and wishes slowly turn into actual results, the realities of 2018 are starting to take shape. Two games into the new campaign and we’ve seen some mixed results for the black and silver, losing a tough opener on the road and then bouncing back with a victory at home.

The season got off to a rather unexpected rough start for San Antonio FC, dropping the opener on a chilly and slick St Patrick’s Day night in California. Eventually losing 2-1, Sacramento goalkeeper Josh Cohen made an unbelievable finger-tip save late-on to preserve the victory. But SAFC is nothing if not consistent. In three tries in Sacramento, SAFC has yet to walk off of their pitch as victors. And two streaks went by the wayside. San Antonio lost their first ever opening day match, and the win was the first for Republic FC over SAFC in four tries.

It was definitely the tale of two halves for San Antonio. In the opening half, the team looked rattled under heavy pressure from Sacramento and even hanging onto a little bit of possession looked like it took every ounce of effort from the team. They never looked comfortable, were outshot 8-3, and generated all of one quality chance, which Omar Gordon skied way over the net.

In the end, SAFC left the match in Sacramento with a slight edge in possession, 53 percent to 47 percent – an early shift from what we saw in 2017, where SAFC frequently found themselves on the short end of the possession stick. They were only outshot 13-9 overall, so they recovered nicely from the slow first half start. Crosses were an interesting subject of the night. San Antonio leaned too heavily on them (27-7), and they compounded that with poor accuracy (18 percent – 57 percent). That’s the sign of a team struggling with their build up and that was the case most of the night. Their passing accuracy also dipped by 16 percent when they were in Sacramento’s end of the field compared with their overall accuracy for the match. The bottom line? San Antonio has to play much cleaner in their attacking half if they’re going to get the results that they want to see.

Photo courtesy Becky Rath / Sacramento Republic FC

SAFC continues to live and die by the aggressiveness of Restrepo who loves to come off his line and frequently way out of his net. Certainly, no one can argue with the reigning USL Goalkeeper of the Year when it comes to his decision making, but he earned a yellow card early in the match for committing a hard foul outside of the 18. And on a couple of other occasions, he was nearly beaten in an easy fashion for coming out deep into his box and leaving the net exposed. To his credit, he managed to escape both times unscathed. Still, that style of play is likely to send many SAFC fans reaching for blood pressure medication as he toes the line with his aggressive play, and sometimes cheeky skill. He picked up another yellow against St Louis. Two yellow cards in two matches. A rarity for a goalkeeper to say the least.

Coach Darren Powell was not discouraged by the result in Sacramento saying: “The response from our players being down 2-0 was good. I felt we were going to get the second goal but it didn’t quite happen tonight, but the effort of the players and desire to get back was there for everybody to see.”

If there are two takeaways that fans should hang on to, one – It’s very fair to say that SAFC did not field their best Starting XI in Sacramento or against Saint Louis, for that matter. Jose Escalante started the season suspended for a red card against, ironically enough, San Antonio in the 2017 regular season finale. How’s that for poetic justice? And number two, going hand in hand with the first point – the injury bug hit the team hard right out of the gate. Claiming as its first victims the way too often injured Cesar Elizondo, newcomer Sonny Guadarrama, Defensive stalwart Stephen McCarthy, and Mr. never-ending energy Rafa Castillo. That’s a lot of key pieces that were missing right out of the gate for SAFC. And a lot of veteran presence that could have paid dividends in such a harsh opening night environment. And then it was compounded by Greg Cochrane getting injured late in the opening match. With team injury information being limited it’s hard to know exactly how long Cochrane will be out, but it’s fair to say it’s nothing small. Cochrane has to lead the team in minutes in both of their seasons, so when Mr. Ironman misses time, you know it was for something significant.

While we’re talking about the defense, people will no doubt be quick to point out that San Antonio – known for the defensive prominence (especially last season where they put up 12 shutouts behind Restrepo) hasn’t come up with a clean sheet yet. While that’s true, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that Restrepo is third in the West in saves after two weeks with seven. Diego is still Diego. And it’s absolutely fair to say that SAFC’s top four defenders haven’t played together yet. As mentioned, McCarthy has been injured since preseason and has yet to play in 2018 at all, and now Cochrane is on that list too.

Photo courtesy: Darren Abate/USL

Curiously enough, Cyprian Hedrick has been a healthy scratch two weeks in a row. This time last year, he was seemingly being groomed for starting Central Defense duty before those plans were derailed by his own injury. It is a bit surprising that he has been pushed out in the early going by the newcomers. And while having Mike Seth line up defensively isn’t completely surprising (we saw it in preseason) it’s hard to imagine that’s the ideal role for the former goal scoring and assist leader for the Switchbacks two seasons ago. So, it’s all a bit of a work in progress at the moment. Add to that the dynamic of three newcomers trying to carve out their roles, and it’s expected to have a few growing pains early in the season. Also, when you look up at the high flying scoring going on in USL West so far and realize that only five teams have given up fewer goals than SAFC’s three in two matches, it’s quickly apparent the sky isn’t falling just because there hasn’t been a clean sheet on the board.

On the bright side in the loss at Sacramento were Alex Bruce and Connor Presley. Both were second-half substitutes who looked very capable and very hungry in their short stays on the field. It was Bruce who nearly leveled the match in the dying minutes with a header that was very well saved by Cohen. If they’re going to bring that same level of intensity each and every week – they both are going to be up for breakout seasons. I was also encouraged by the play of Chris Christian. Mind you, he’s going to have a hard time facing the inevitable comparisons to the now-MLS starting defender Sebastian Ibeagha, fair or not. But I thought for his first match out – and for facing his old team – that he more than held his own, and he looked much more comfortable at home against Saint Louis. He also showed off his skill quality. Watch this nifty move from Saturday night.

And what can you say about Mikey Lopez? There was a huge burst of fan excitement when he was signed, but then he was overshadowed by Guzman in the preseason. Proving for the millionth time that preseason is just preseason, and should largely be ignored from a results standpoint. Guzman had five goals in the warm-up campaign but has come up empty in the first two games. To be clear, Guzman is second on the team in chances – so I’m not sounding any alarm bells on him. But results matter in football and Lopez has scored in each match in exciting fashion.

His first goal was led by the aggressiveness of the aforementioned Presley, who struck the post, which then turned a rebound chance for the SAFC newcomer. He absolutely ripped his shot from just outside the 18 to open the scoring for SAFC this season. Here’s a look back at the goal.

Lopez was feeling positive after the match, saying “We’re disappointed not to get the result we wanted, but we showed a lot of fight after going down. It’s a positive sign to see how we fought and finished the game, because we know we’re always going to give our all until the end.”
And that fight was on display again in the home opener. After giving up a very early goal, San Antonio had to battle from behind for a second week in a row. Lopez did not disappoint, finding the first half equalizer on this gorgeous header.

It seems a pretty safe bet that the former MLS man is a USL gem in the making. Really, the only negative thing I can say about him so far is that he has joined Restrepo and Pecka with two yellow cards after two matches. As we’ve seen under Powell, yellow cards and potential suspensions aren’t a huge concern for the manager and it’s unlikely that he’ll be pulling back the reigns on any of them. But it’s a little unsettling to see a trio of key players racing towards suspensions so early in the season.

Last, but certainly not least, let’s talk about another big-time Texan on this club, Kris Tyrpak. He was second on this team in goals and assists last season, and he will be a huge part of the team’s fortunes this year. And especially with Guzman off to a slow start, it was a much welcome sight to see him nab a goal and an assist vs Saint Louis. Between him and Lopez, they have 8 shots on goal this season, to easily lead the way for SAFC through two matches. There must be some magic in that headband of his – take a look at this well-placed header for the winner on Saturday night.

After the match, Tyrpak had this to say about the atmosphere at Toyota Field: “After you score a goal and the whole crowd erupts you can’t even hear yourself think, so hopefully we continue to have a strong fan base this season.” That kind of well-deserved compliment to the fans has to be music to the ears of the SAFC faithful.

San Antonio FC heads back to California to face a struggling LA Galaxy II team this weekend. Hopefully, they will feel the need to play with a sense of urgency and capitalize on a team that is still trying to find their way. That’s because the mighty Swope Park Rangers – reigning champs of USL West and already winners of two matches in two games – will be there waiting for SAFC’s next home match in two weeks.

That’s life in the USL West. Some weeks are easier than others.

It’s up, it’s down. And it’s always unexpected and exciting.

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Stephen Michael 26, is a journalist, social media coordinator, host, and entertainment reporter. Michael graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts and earned a Master's Degree in Digital Media in 2020 from the University of the Incarnate Word. He has worked covering the San Antonio Rampage, Stars, and San Antonio Futbol Club. He was the host of the Project Spurs Roundtable on NBC affiliate News 4 San Antonio from 2015-17.


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